Starting my radiotherapy treatment journey.

Today I started my 30 session-course of radiotherapy treatment at Rondebosch Memorial hospital, GVI Oncology department. The radiotherapy usually goes hand in hand with a lumpectomy, the surgical procedure I had to remove the cancer tumour in my breast. The type of breast cancer determines the duration of the radiotherapy treatment. The good news is that the countdown has officially begun: one down, 29 sessions to go.

First I had to meet with the doctor who wanted to clear up any questions I had and then of course, I had to sign on the dotted line. The doctor has a long German surname that I will get to know over the next few weeks. Dr Hart is on sabbatical and my new German-flavored doctor will be supervising my treatment protocol.

Side effects of radiotherapy

We discussed the side effects again. I could very well have been in a life sciences/biology class.  I sat there there, listening and nodding. My family and I had already agreed that we would go ahead with the radiotherapy and this talk was just a refresher of what the oncologist, Dr Hart, had explained when we met.

The side effects of radiation include fatigue that may become progressively worse as the treatment period continues. A scary fact is that your heart can be affected, especially if the target area for radiation is on your left side. The breast cancer tumor was in my left breast so obviously, I need to note this. Another side effect is that the breast becomes increasingly tender, swollen and manifest burns like sunburn. I have done extensive reading on radiation treatment so I am fairly familiar with all these and other risks. I will of course, see how my body is going to respond to this onslaught.

Then it was time for my questions.

Registered dieticians are under the radar.

I wanted to know which dietician oncologists work with. This is an area that doesn't seem to come up during discussions. One would think that given all the modern developments, that the medical profession would start looking at treating patients holistically, including advice on nutrition.

 When I was in hospital for the lumpectomy, I couldn't believe the kind of food that appears on the menu. One of the breakfast menus for a particular day does not include cereals or yoghurt. Nutrition is definitely a step child.  The doctor couldn't give me the name of the resident dietician and said I could get this information from the staff in the radiology treatment room. When I enquired from the staff in the treatment room, nobody could give me a name of a single dietician. Clearly, nutrition is not on the agenda, an oversight that we should really look into.

Doctor's Personal experience of radiotherapy

My next question was whether the doctor had experience of someone in his own family who had received radiotherapy. The doctor told me about a close family member who has had radiotherapy treatment. In fact, he said, we share the same diagnosis. He explained that she became extremely fatigued at the end and that he was SO angry that she insisted on driving herself to the treatment centre throughout. This sharing gave the session a personal touch that I appreciated. 

To the treatment centre

I have noticed that most people who work in the oncology wing at Rondebosch Memorial hospital are warm and friendly.  Even the folk who come to the treatment centre look fairly relaxed and there is no rush. Everybody knows whoever is at that treatment centre, has some form of cancer.  One guy who was still hooked up to IV drips, commented that the wheels on his drip stand need new Tyger Wheels because they are screeching too much. An elderly woman sat on the soft couches,  knitting and waiting patiently. 

At one point I took a bite into the hamburger we had bought. Basil indicated ever so softly that he doesn't think eating is allowed in the lounge area. I consoled him and said he could just tell them the hamburger is my psychological crutch if anyone frowns upon it. That settled his nerves and he was quite happy to see I did not want more than one bite!

The actual treatment room is a high-tech space, something similar to a scene from a sci-fi movie.  The staff explained the type of equipment that would surround me during the session, and even explained how close the machines would come to me, but not touch me.They explained that they would be talking in codes but I was not to worry; it is just the way they communicate about the machines. They pointed out the video cameras that are on all the time, reassuring me that I was being monitored all the time. Real movie stuff. 

Whenever the machine had to be adjusted, my companions would start speaking in code. Then soon after the three ladies would leave the room to watch me from a room next door.  It was then just me, the machines and the meditative music playing softly in the background. So this was the routine for the next few weeks, I gathered. 

After about 20 minutes, I was done with session one. I have no idea what will transpire over the course of the treatment, but I am prayerful,  have an open mind and a spirit of gratitude. I will try to give an update when I am halfway through the course to keep you in the loop about the goings on in the radiotherapy treatment room on lower ground level at Rondebosch Memorial Hospital.


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